Agriculture Minister Rafael Eitan said Saturday Israel may soon have to import water, and he proposed Arab-Israeli cooperation to solve a Middle East water shortage and avert a possible war.

Rainfall in Israel is well below average this season. Experts say reserves are dangerously low and fear that salt water may seep into aquifers beneath the Mediterranean coast.Barring steady rains soon, Eitan told Israel radio, "We will have to start importing water, simply bring water in aboard ships from countries on the Mediterranean Sea willing to give us water."

Israel Radio said talks were under way with Turkish firms.

A farmer and retired army chief of staff who led Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the rightist Eitan appealed for international aid to build three desalination plants to ease the shortage for Israelis and Arabs.

"We should tell the world: If you want to reduce tension in the Middle East, don't send tanks and don't waste our time with talks - make water," he said.

Eitan proposed building two plants along the Jordanian-Israeli border to supply both states and the third plant near the occupied Gaza Strip, where Palestinians face health hazards from poor water supply and open sewage in refugee camps.

"This (project) could allow the Middle East to start a new era and to leave a situation of near disaster," he said.

Israel and its Arab neighbors, except for Egypt, are officially at war, and water experts and Middle East leaders say worsening water problems could trigger new hostilities.